SDCC '08 - IDW's GI Joe/Transformers Panel

On Friday, at San Diego Comic-Con, IDW had a panel so large—that some of the members had to play musical chairs in a room packed with fans of their two majority properties—G.I. Joe and Transformers. IDW Publisher and Editor-in-Chief, Chris Ryall, acted as the AV guy to Denton Tipton’s panel host for the following creators:

Shane McCarthy (writer), Chris Mowry (writer), Alex Milne (artist), Marty Isenberg (writer), Marcelo Matere (artist), Josh Perez (colorist), Klaus Scherwinski (artist), Robbie Musso (artist) and Casey Collier (artist)

That’s quite a talent-heavy panel, right? Well, midway through the panel, an elite, highly trained strike force comprised of Andy Schmidt, Robert Atkins, and the legendary Larry Hama usurped the stage from the Transformers crew to answer questions about the new G.I. Joe projects coming from IDW later this year and in early 2009.

Here’s how things went down:

Tipton introduced the panel—to a roar of applause in the tightly packed convention room. The first slide shown on the screen was cover art from the All Hail Megatron mini-series written by Shane McCarthy, with artwork by Guido Guidi—who unfortunately could not attend the convention. McCarthy spoke about the divided nature of diehard Transformer fans over the controversial storyline in All Hail Megatron mini; saying, “I heard lots of good feedback,” laughing, “and some passionate criticism” which gained a laugh from the audience. He said he was happy with the book—and approved of the love/hate divide it has created with fans.

Tipton and Ryall indicated that the run of the first issue of All Hail Megatron is nearly sold out and that it would be the first Transformer comic book at IDW to completely sell-out which caused the audience to break into more applause. Slides of several issues of All Hail Megatron were shown as Shane McCarthy said, “It’s depressing; some people will not like me anymore,” as a slide of the silhouette of the Autobot Ironhide was shown appearing to be mourning. The panel laughed as McCarthy said, “Ironhide is having a good man-cry. He went on to describe the event as “galaxy-spanning” in nature and he took a shot at the sensibilities of the audience by finishing his thought with, “…obviously Prime’s out of commission.”

The next slide presented was an image of the new character, “Drift”, whose car-mode is that of a stylized Japanese drift car. When asked if the character would become part of the Gen 1 universe—a hush fell over the panel as all eyes fell on Chris Ryall as he smiled and gave a silent “thumbs up” signal. In fact, this character also marks the first time a character created by the IDW line of Transformers has been approved by Hasbro to be added to their line of toys—an announcement that elicited another roaring wave of applause from the audience. In describing Drift, McCarthy joked, “He’s very Japanesey.”

The next slide bore the title “Transformers: Revelation”—Tipton informed the audience, “Simon Furman isn’t going anywhere,” indicating the popular Transformer writers extended stay in the Transformers universe. Slides of E.J. Su’s artwork from the project were also shown.

Next up, Tipton spoke with Marty Isenberg about upcoming projects involving Transformers: Animated: The Arrival. With Dario Brizuela handling the art chores, this book ties into the latest Transformers cartoon series’ first season. At this point, Isenberg beckoned into the audience at a girl dressed as the cartoon version of Starscream—and stated, “Starscream—you are the first official Transformers: Animated costume at Comic-Con,” which caused another roar of laughter and applause. Isenberg indicated that The Arrival would have a surprise cast member, Oil Slick, a character who was originally slated to only exist as a toy in the line from Hasbro.

The next slide showed Transformers: The Reign of Starscream—a tie-in to the original movie universe of the Transformers. With Mowry writing the series and Perez coloring the artwork of Milne, this new mini-series continues the action after the first Transformers movie ended—introducing new characters and returning the Decepticons to Cybertron to rebuild the All-Spark Cube—to which Mowry added, “…but things go terribly wrong.” He also stated, “Readers will see a new side to Starscream.” It was mentioned briefly that Soundwave was slated to be in the mini-series but certain aspects of the plot could not be worked out.

Another slide showed the title Transformers: Destiny, a new mini-series linking the two movies, Mowry indicated that this story would follow The Reign of Starscream. Issues of continuity were discussed and previous problems happened—Ryall stated, “We’re trying to stay strictly within the established continuity […] unlike the last time when we tried with the best of intentions.” Mowry added, “Hopefully, we’ll be getting everyone amped for the sequel.”

The next slide showed a picture of Grimlock—for Transformers: Maximum Dinobots—written by Simon Furman with art by Nick Roche; this story would be carrying out threads left behind from the ‘Headmaster’ storyline. Another slide was shown—this time of Megatron holding Reflector; in mock homage to the Joker on the cover of A Killing Joke—which elicited a big chuckle from the panel and the audience.

The next slide, a cover to Transformers Spotlight: Blurr caused a huge eruption of cheers and applause from the audience. Shane McCarthy, the writer of the book, said, “Casey Collier nails everything he does,” in regards to the interior pages being shown on the screen.” He added, “It’s Blurr as you’ve never seen him before,” as he explained the necessity of updating the character to give him relevancy, “ he’s got a new attitude—this story is set before ‘The Great War’—so he’s kind of a prick.” Casey Collier lauded McCarthy’s writing abilities, saying, “I fell in love with this story—and you guys will too.”

Tipton introduced another slide—Transformers: The Thirteen—written by Furman and slated for 2009 will describe the origin story of the 13 original Transformers. Tipton then quickly flipped to Transformers Spotlight: Cosmos, saying, “This is a HUGE project,” which elicited another large laugh from the audience. Chris Mowry, writer of the book, said, “You people shouldn’t joke about things so much—because when you do they come true.” He indicated that he would like to tie the one-shot into some continuity—possibly something prehistoric but “not quite Dinobot.”

At this point the slideshow ended and the Transformer crew were asked to take a seat so that some guys who liked G. I. Joe could come talk to the audience. Andy Schmidt, editor of IDW G.I. Joe, escorted artist Robert Atkins and legendary G.I. Joe scribe Larry Hama onto the stage in another eruption of praise; the first slide to their presentation being a Dave Dorman cover for the first issue. Several pieces of concept art were shown: the Baroness, Scarlett, Snake Eyes and Destro—with Atkins stating, “I wanted to update their costumes slightly while still keeping the classic look.” Another slide was shown of the retailer incentive cover for the first issue of the new series by 30 Days of Night co-creator, Ben Templesmith, depicting Storm Shadow and Snake Eyes destroying a HISS tank which was reminiscent of an older story from the Marvel continuity (G.I. Joe #46).

Schmidt indicated that there would be both a “classic” G.I. Joe continuity and a movie continuity much like IDW’s Transformer line—adding that there would be a four issue prequel mini-series for the movie set for release in 2009 as well as a four issue mini- that would adapt the movie into comic format. Schmidt praised Atkins artwork for the “classic” line and said, “Oh yeah, and we got some guy named Larry who seemed like he knew the characters well enough to write them.”

Larry Hama spoke to the audience praising IDW, stating, “[IDW] is giving me a chance to do the things I’ve always wanted to do,” in relation to the characters and the overall directions of the stories. He said the direction of the stories becoming more realistic and grittier. Lama spoke about his own personal expectations that he has for his work—describing himself as “evolving” and saying, “I’m not doing what I was doing 25 years ago—hopefully, I’m doing better,” expressing his desire to focus on attaining a wider audience for the G.I. Joe readership.

Atkins again expressed his pleasure about working with IDW and Denton Tipton particularly. He elaborated on the desire to pay specific attention to the character chemistry and their unique visual designs—indicating that most of the characters were already visually iconic by saying, “Why would I change things terribly? If it’s not broke...you know the rest.” He described any updates to the characters as being practical for the purpose of making them more contemporary—citing the desire to make physical tweaks to affects like belts and grenades—to make the characters seem more functional.

Tipton went on to mention that issue #0 of the series would be hitting shelves in October for .99 cents and that the first issue of the series would be out in January. Incidentally, #0 will feature a 16 page story and a ton of extras like concept art and more.

Turning to questions, Andy Schmidt addressed the audience with the question, “Destro: Fuzzy red collar?” which gained a verbal agreement and a correction from a front-row audience member of, “Oh, you mean red fox collar,” which elicited a slight amount of laughter.

One member of the audience asked how this new iteration of Cobra Commander would compare to the character from the cartoon and the original Marvel series—complaining that the character was too whiny and weak; Larry Hama responded by saying, “Oh, he will be a total evil bad ass this time around. He described the difference between Cobra Commander and Destro; describing Destro as being somewhat honorable.

An audience member asked the panel the typical, “Who’s your favorite character?” In response, Robert Atkins described his love for the vehicles of the ‘80s toy line and how certain toys played on his inner-childhood memories of the toys—like the H.I.S.S. tank and the 8 foot aircraft carrier. Schmidt admitted a certain amount of fondness for Stalker; saying, “He was like the least specialized of all the characters and could sort of kick anyone’s ass if he needed to.” Hama smiled and said, “As a writer, I’d have to say Snake Eyes because he’s the easiest guy to write,” which created groans and chuckles about the room.

When asked about ninjas and their appearance in the series, Schmidt joked, “The title of this book is actually ‘G.I. Joe: No Ninjas’,” which created more laughter and applause. Hama indicated how it was important not to get into the dilemma of taking away the focus of the whole team; eluding that Hasbro and the early Marvel title suffered because the focus on the fan-favorite characters of the time helped to sidetrack the book quite a bit. The same audience member asked, “Well, what about Storm Shadow…who will he be working for?” to which Andy Schmidt mocked a moment of silence and said, “Yeah…sure.”

When asked about the existence of the Devil’s Due series and how it will pertain to this series—Denton Tipton was clear that the IDW series was a complete relaunch. Schmidt went further by saying, “We thought it was important that we stay out of the way of DDP so they could do their own thing,” in reference to attempting to segue the books into one another. The panel briefly spoke about the problematic nature of the Marvel series in connection to the Hasbro toy line—and how the marketing of new toys forced story telling elements of the title to a secondary position. Schmidt added, “Now, everything is already in front of us—we can create a new sense of logic for the equipment and why Cobra and G.I. Joe use them.” Hama expressed his happiness at being able to “re-tell the story from day one” and the challenge of “compressing the other 25 years” was not something he wanted to do.

When asked about the duration of the new title Andy Schmidt told the happy audience that new book was indeed ongoing. An audience member blurted out something about reprinting the original Marvel series—as to how much would be reprinted with Chris Ryall and Andy Schmidt agreeing that IDW had no problem with the idea of reprinting the entirety of the Marvel series. Larry Hama closed out the G.I. Joe Q & A by describing his work on the upcoming book as “an ongoing that is a series of arcs.”

With time running short, the Transformer entourage was hustled back onto the stage and asked a couple of questions in regards to potential toys from various IDW books which garnered a “No.” and about the release for the third season of Transformers: Animated which Marty Isenberg speculated would start around Spring of ’09.

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